USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘gangs’
Proverbs

Friends Proverb

MG: Cual is tu favorito dicho?

Which is  your favorite proverb?

CG: “Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres. Como si te juntas con personas inteligentes seras inteligente y si te juntas con personas malosas tambien vas a ser cosas malas.”

Tell me who you are with and I will tell you who you are. Like if you are around people who are intelligent you are going to be intelligent too and if you hang out with people who do bad things you are also going to do bad things.

English proverb: “A man is known for his friends”

Context: I asked CG for her favorite proverb and this was the first one that came to her mind.

Background: CG is my mom and she was born in Mexico. She came here when she was 17 years old and she still remembers these proverbs that old wise people would tell her. She believes it especially because the people who you are around can strongly influence who you are. She has told this one to me before and when she told me the proverb many stories of her using this one on me came to mind.

Thoughts: This is a well-known proverb and I was not too surprised to find that there is an official English version of this proverb. Growing up my mom would tell me this whenever she would advise me to choose my friends wisely. She has always explained to me that even if I did not do bad things with my friends, people would automatically make assumptions on who I was by the people I would hang out with. This is a common Mexican proverb used in families within the context of gangs. There is a large amount of young people in the Latin American culture who are involved in gangs and this proverb is used to discourage them from being friends with gang members.

 

Customs
Initiations
Legends
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Gang Initiation

“There’s an urban legend in Detroit, Michigan. To join a gang you have to drive around with your lights off and then the first person who flashes their lights at you to turn your lights on, you have to follow them and kill them.”

The informant told me about this initiation ritual at the very end of our interview. He said that he heard it from his brother, who is also from Detroit. The informant grew up in a suburb outside of Detroit. He likes to think of Detroit as tough and dirty. This legend of a gang initiation ritual reinforces this image of the city. The informant said that he finds the idea of randomly killing a stranger terrifying. However, he still likes to tell the tale of the ritual.

I think this process for initiating gang members is extremely harsh. I don’t know why anyone would participate in such an inhumane practice. However, it is a little romantically horrible; it could take place in a serial killer tv show or a scary novel. I have heard of similar gang initiation practices. In fact, another informant informed me that there is the exact same ritual here in Los Angeles. It makes me more wary of flashing my lights at people if they don’t have their lights on, which I do regularly when I drive. Therefore, the informant’s use of this tale to characterize Detroit as harsh is a little off target, because it isn’t unique to Detroit. Culture is defined by its folklore, from both within and outside of it. The informant used the folklore to define Detroit culture, even though it isn’t all of the culture of Detroit and it doesn’t belong only to Detroit. The ritual is terrifying and reflects how harsh and scary gangs can be.

Legends
Narrative

Madison Sword Murder

My informant related to me a story from her hometown in Madison, Wisconsin about a man in a gang of some sort who was bothering his neighbor. The neighbor killed the gang member with an ornamental sword and left his body on a playground near the informant’s house. The informant never saw any kind of official report on it, but remembers everyone at school talking about this “sword guy.”

This story speaks to a fascination with murder, crime, and dark happenings in settings once thought innocent. I feel like I hear a lot of stories of someone utilizing a katana that was meant to be ornamental in a more practical fashion, but the notion of a skewered corpse left on a playground is a macabre little twist on the idea.

Customs
general
Gestures

Colors & Hand Signs in the Latin Kings

A friend who grew up on the South Side of Chicago explained a few of the meanings of iconography for the gang the Latin Kings:

Their colors are gold and black. Gold is supposed to represent like Life for the members. And black is supposed to be their blackness absorbing the other rival gangs.

Then they have the 5 Point Crown. The five points…each point stands for something. So it’s like Love, Unity, Knowledge, Respect and Honesty.

It’s either a 3 or 5 point Crown. It depends on the gang. Gangs that have more Mexicans have 3 points. The gangs that have more Puerto Ricans use the 5 point Crown.”

The existence of so much symbolism in gang iconography is part of the bonding of the gang. Unity is a major part of developing a gang mentality and symbolism can be employed to establish unity as an almost natural state outside of the manipulation of the gang. Discipline is also important to the success of a gang and the Latin Kings are known for their close knit control on their members’ discipline. The virtues expressed by this symbolism suggest a strict discipline if not moralism, although this may be relative to who they are interacting.

general
Legends
Narrative

Contemporary Legend – Los Angeles, California

“Tennis Shoes”

Origins

My informant had a story about tennis shoes hanging from telephone wires and what they mean. When she was in junior high, she was told those shoes have a specific significance. She believes she heard it from a friend’s older brother who was in high school.

Quoted from Reverend Kenney:

“If you walk through many different sections of LA and communities around LA, occasionally there is a pair of tennis shoes hanging from telephone line. “You should be somewhat frightened when you saw them” some kids would say.”

“I grew up in Los Angeles and was told tennis shoes were put on telephone poles to show which territory belonged to a specific street gang. If you’re in a particular gang, you’re supposed to read the signs / symbols of a gang and stay out, or you will be threatened.”

“When I came back to Los Angeles 20 years ago, the urban legend was changed a bit. Now, it signals that the house facing those tennis shoes was a crack house. If you were looking for crack, that was the place to get it. This is a story that may have some truth to it. But if you look carefully, the shoes are all different sizes. Most are not very expensive tennis shoes. In reality, what they show is that some kid was mad at another kid, took their shoes, and threw them over the telephone line. Or, it means one kid was challenging another kid to see if he had the strength to get the tennis shoes up there.”

Collector’s comments:

Although I was born in Chicago and never came to Los Angeles until I began at USC, I too vaguely remember seeing tennis shoes on telephone pole wires. However, I never really heard any of these legends about the significant of the shoes. I simply saw them and assumed one kid had stolen another kid’s shoes and tossed them over the telephone pole wires. It seems like the most logical explanation since as a child, my friends and I would always push ourselves to the limit. We would try to pop “wheelies” on our bikes over unstable terrain, constantly run around train tracks, and perform other actions that we used to try assert our bravery. Repeatedly throwing a pair of shoes over telephone pole wires sounds like a lot like the challenges we would make amongst ourselves.

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